No sweets for you Madame!

by Gabriella Sonabend

Last night I had the most peculiar dream. I was with a friend from home but we were not at home and we were not in India, I think we were in Berlin. He began to ask me about my time in India and I told him some fantastical story about how I had been living on a house boat, with no shower or kitchen; the winter had arrived early and the water around me had frozen. I had suffered through the cold and eventually I agreed (after much encouragement) to move into the mansion beside the river. In my dream I knew I was lying to my friend and I felt horribly guilty but I simply could not bring myself to tell him any truth about India. I woke up feeling ashamed of my dream-self, I am not one to analyse dreams in any great depth but it did make me think again of the strangely fictional aspects of my life here. Days that pass delirious –

Yesterday I did not leave my studio, I was determined to get myself back on my feet, the murky cloud that had been drowning my brain, causing nausea and depression had finally lifted but still my body was incredibly weak and I could barely walk to the kitchen, (a few metres away). I lay on my bed staring up at the high white ceiling, I dreamt of my next escape. As I fantasised about exotic creatures and fresh water running through dense jungle, the sounds of Varanasi were ceaseless. The horns, the pre-recorded prayers booming through loud speakers attached to electricity poles, the shouting men, the howling dogs, the stomping of the water buffalo nobly heading south (I have yet to discover where they are travelling to), the birds circling the high tree tops (these are scarce), the horns and the road workers.

I ate honey and yogurt, yogurt and honey, nothing else, my teeth feel strange but at least my mind is clearing. I remember something absurd.

A few days ago, before I became sick, Jeremy joined us for dinner at the residency. I wanted something sweet for desert and told the others I would pop out quickly to pick up some sweets from the local shop. I wrapped my head in a scarf and ventured alone into the dark, dusty night. The sweet shop is only a few minutes away but at night the swerving headlights and dust clouds quickly obscure sight and walking any small distance is a challenge. I arrived at the shop feeling strangely triumphant; I lowered my scarf so I was able to speak and asked the man at the counter if I could buy a mixed box of sweets. He stared at me with a blank expression, there were three other men behind the counter and they each proceeded to stare in the same way. I repeated my request and pointed to the sweets I wanted to buy and the box I wanted to put them in. They continued to stare. I asked again, this time my voice slightly raised. Again, no response and then the man at the front of the counter began to laugh.

“We have no sweets” he told me, this was of course a blatant lie as I was standing in front of a large counter of them. “I only speak Hindi” he then said, which, was of course also a lie, I have bought sweets here many times and I know that he speaks English.

“You go” he told me. That was that. For some unspoken, inexplicable reason I returned to the gallery empty handed, shaking my head in disbelief (although in truth I was not shocked at all – this is India, anything can happen – I shook my head more for dramatic effect). I related the story to the others and no one seemed particularly surprised.